Art reference

Indy artist Papel Picado pushes the boundaries of fine art

INDIANAPOLIS — As you walk into the new art exhibit at the Indiana State Museum and Historic Sites, each piece stands out in its own right.

Unlike your average art exhibit, there’s no particular theme for “Collecting Indiana: Recent Art Acquisitions.” Instead, Indiana State Museum curator of fine arts Mark Ruschman wanted the 26 newly acquired artworks to stand on their own, not necessarily be connected to the one they hang next to.

“They all have their own story, whether it’s the creative process, the artist’s journey, the subject he tackles. And it’s a wide variety of works ranging from painting, textiles, paper carving, sculpture, photography; and it really gives a wonderful insight into the breadth and depth of our collection,” Ruschman told WRTV.

WRTV Photo: Shakkira Harris

The Indiana State Museum has added to its collection of works of art in recent years. Twenty-six of these recently acquired pieces are on display at the museum from July 17 to July 17 in a new exhibit called “Collecting Indiana: Recent Art Acquisitions.”

However, there is one piece of art in particular that demands your attention as soon as you step through the entrance. Brightening the room, Beatriz Vasquez’s colorful 7-by-9 foot picado de papel “Mother Nature All Dressed Up” hangs.

Papel picado is a traditional Mexican craft. It is created from sheets of paper with intricate cut designs usually made using chisels, nails, mallets, and sometimes a hammer.

The state museum that features Vasquez’s papel picado in its art exhibit crosses an unspoken boundary within the art community. Paper cutting is widely considered a craft – not an art.

“Paper is really disposable,” Vasquez, 53, told WRTV. “I’ve seen so many metaphors in the newspaper itself, in relation to the community that I come from – the vulnerable community that I come from – in the Latinx community that continues and remains vulnerable in this society.”

Although the fine art community draws a line in the sand, leaving paper-cut art on the other side, Vasquez persisted in creating his contemporary art inspired by papel picado.

Today, one of the largest state-owned collections in the country houses the art of Vasquez.

“My work is an act of resistance against the Eurocentric idea of ​​fine art,” Vasquez said.

“It’s an art, and I hope people start to see that paper cutting isn’t just an art because of the skills you develop when cutting paper, but all shapes [of] papers, shapes, paper characteristics, paper qualities are extremely versatile. And that’s something that can be more celebrated in the fine art industry.”


WRTV Photo: Shakkira Harris

Beatriz Vasquez stands in front of her artwork “Mother Nature All Dressed Up” during an interview with WRTV in February 2022.

Although his family has roots in Indiana since the mid-1950s, Vasquez spent his formative years in Matamoros, Tamaulipas, Mexico and Brownsville, Texas. She came to Indianapolis often but moved more permanently to the city for college in her early twenties.

Vasquez graduated from the Herron School of Art and Design at IUPUI in 2006. While at school, Vasquez says she did not hear of Mexican American artists, art, or, more specifically, , from Papel Picado.

“You really felt the LatinX and the Latin Diaspora. There was a huge lack of representation in all aspects of life here in Indiana, in Indianapolis. Especially in the arts,” Vasquez said.

When the artist graduated from IUPUI, she yearned more for her cultural identity. So Vasquez began her own residency in Matamoros and Brownsville, where she learned from the Mexican artisans around her, particularly about the craft of papel picado.

“I wanted to connect and bring that culture to the fore, not by painting, not by using the other traditional mediums,” Vasquez said.

When Vasquez returned to Indiana, she immersed herself in paper cutting. She was determined to prove that the art of paper cutting was not just a craft, but could also be an art. “Cultural reference to me means everything.”

Vasquez is an art scholar at many institutions, from American arts at embassies in Sierra Leone, Africa, to the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts and Root Division in San Francisco, California. Additionally, his art has been placed in galleries across the country.

“It’s incredibly important to me as a woman of color to be raised in a space like the Indiana State Museum — a space I never thought I could be a part of,” Vasquez wrote. in a blog post on the state museum’s website. “But now it’s possible that someone like me could be a part of this establishment and be elevated to this level of visibility.”

Vasquez’s art goes against what was traditionally considered beautiful in the world of fine art, and now that very world is opening up to his art.


WRTV Photo: Shakkira Harris

‘Mother Nature All Dressed Up’ by Beatriz Vasquez on display inside the ‘Collecting Indiana: Recent Art Acquisitions’ art exhibit inside the Indiana State Museum.

Vasquez’s piece in the Collecting Indiana exhibit is about Mother Nature herself and the invisibility of Mexican Americans and Latino and Latino communities. However, Vasquez says she has focused more specifically on the Midwest in her art and calls for social justice.

“I wanted to represent or highlight a traditional Mexican dress in the fabric of the artwork. To acknowledge our existence, our visibility, our creativity, in our amazing culture, the colorful culture,” Vasquez told WRTV about his work.

She is an admirer of the four seasons the Midwest sees throughout the year, which are seamlessly integrated into both the design and context of the dress.

Vasquez says she hopes viewers will see “the beauty of mother nature all around us” and that people in the Midwest will begin to recognize Mexican American culture and its contribution to the very fabric of that part of the country.

“This work – as you can see by looking at it – is very labor intensive. The detail is incredible. Its scale makes it even more incredible. So I think Beatriz brings a whole new take on the technique and on the use material,” Ruschman said of Vasquez’s work.

Although Ruschman thinks Vasquez’s piece enters fine art territory, he thinks Papel Picado will always be widely considered a craft. Not fine arts.

“It really took Beatriz, in this case, to raise [papel picado] to the fine arts. And she really took off with that idea and created these really beautiful pieces,” Ruschman said. “I think that’s still a special case. That’s not to say other artists aren’t using the technique, but probably using it in different ways.”

Vasquez says she hopes the outlook on art education in our state and the Midwest changes. She herself is now a teacher at Arts For Learning, where she travels across Indiana teaching paper art.

“I still think the arts are missing a lot of Latino arts,” Vasquez said. “They still don’t teach the incredible collection of Latino artists who have contributed to the very nature of the fabric of the United States.”

You can see Vasquez’s work and the rest of the Collecting Indiana exhibit inside the Indiana State Museum, located at 650 W. Washington St., through July 17. The cost of entry is $17.

Shakkira Harris, WRTV digital reporter, can be reached at [email protected] You can follow her on Twitter, @shakkirasays.